TechRecycling taken to a higher level: transforming plastic into valuable resources

Recycling taken to a higher level: transforming plastic into valuable resources

Plastic bottles
Plastic bottles
Images source: © Adobe Stock
ed. WK

9:32 AM EDT, November 2, 2023

British scientists have discovered a novel method of reducing the piled-up plastic waste into valuable resources.

Under the leadership of Stephen Wallace from the University of Edinburgh, a team of scientists has conducted groundbreaking research that could significantly cut down on plastic waste. Harnessing E. coli bacteria, this team of scientists has found a way to convert plastic waste into adipic acid. This essential compound is widely used in the manufacturing of a variety of goods such as perfumes, medications, and nylon.

Bacteria: a new catalyst to convert plastic into valuable resources

Wallace and his team have ingeniously modified E. coli bacteria to convert terephthalic acid, the chief component of PET plastic bottles, into adipic acid. This acid plays a critical role in producing nylon, other similar materials, and a variety of medications and perfumes.

The team successfully developed two strains of E. coli bacteria pushing the possibilities of this biological conversion even further. The first strain transforms terephthalic acid into muconic and adipic acids. The second strain, aided by an added palladium catalyst, can further process the muconic acid into adipic acid.

According to the researchers, adipic acid is usually derived from fossil fuels through energy-intensive processes.'

After successful trials of their method on real plastic waste, the scientists plan to continue their pioneering research. They aim to further modify the bacteria, enabling them to produce an even broader spectrum of useful substances.

In previous research, the same team created an E. coli bacterium that could convert terephthalic acid into vanillin, a key compound that gives vanilla its unique aroma.

Related content